Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

The most challenging cyberattacks these days come from China and target Western firms' trade secrets and intellectual property. But a problem for some is a business opportunity for others: It's boom time for cybersecurity firms that specialize in going after Chinese hackers.

"It's the next big thing," says Richard Stiennon, an industry analyst who specializes in information security firms.

'An Adversary Problem'

For the CEOs of companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, talk of cyberweapons and cyberwar could have been abstract. But at a classified security briefing in spring 2010, it suddenly became quite real.

"We can turn your computer into a brick," U.S. officials told the startled executives, according to a participant in the meeting.

Business executives and national security leaders are of one mind over the need to improve the security of the computers that control the U.S. power grid, the financial system, water treatment facilities and other elements of critical U.S. infrastructure. But they divide over the question of who bears responsibility for that effort.

The disagreement stands as an obstacle to passage of major cybersecurity legislation backed by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Susan Collins of Maine, among others.

Security professionals in both the U.S. government and in private industry have long feared the prospect of a cyberwar with China or Russia, two states capable of launching destructive attacks on the computer networks that control critical assets such as the power grid or the financial system.

Now they face a new cyberthreat: Iran.

"[The Iranians] have all the resources and the capabilities necessary to be a major player in terms of cyberwarfare," says Jeffrey Carr, an expert on cyberconflict who has consulted for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Consider what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans, and you get an idea of the consequences of a cyberattack on critical U.S. infrastructure: No electricity. No water. No transportation. Terrorists or enemy adversaries with computer skills could conceivably take down a power grid, a nuclear station, a water treatment center or a chemical manufacturing plant.



U.S. officials think that this may finally be the time that economic sanctions against Iran will start to have a major effect. The U.S. and its European allies have been hoping that tighter and tighter sanctions will push Iran to negotiate an agreement over the future of its nuclear program. Israel has said it can't wait forever before ordering a military strike, but U.S. officials believe that the sanctions can produce results. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

Republican presidential candidates this week — with the exception of Ron Paul — appeared to be trying to outdo each other in saying how tough they would be in dealing with Iran. Speaking before a pro-Israel group, they said President Obama has been weak — "feckless," in Mitt Romney's words.

Obama, meanwhile, was not impressed. He said he'd heard a lot of "bluster" and "big talk" about Iran, "but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years."

The White House meeting next Monday between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be the most critical encounter for the two men since they took office.

Netanyahu is expected to argue that time is running out on efforts to discourage Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama may say the Israelis can count on U.S. support, but that they should give sanctions and diplomacy time to work before turning to military action.

Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but they get a say in who should be president only by voting in the Democratic and Republican party primaries. Because Puerto Rico is a territory, not a state, Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote in the general election. The political parties, on the other hand, can set their own nominating procedures, and on occasion Puerto Rico becomes a primary battleground.

American officials have long complained about countries that systematically hack into U.S. computer networks to steal valuable data, but until recently they did not name names.

In the last few months, that has changed. China is now officially one of the cyber bad guys and probably the worst.

The Europeans are in the midst of their most serious economic crisis in 60 years, and now they're hearing it's not just their own fate they have to consider: The whole global economy hangs in the balance.

The International Monetary Fund last week warned that if Europe's problems get any worse, it could push the entire world back into recession.

European Union leaders, meeting in Brussels on Monday, are said to be close to resolving some of their most difficult issues — and they'd better be.

In an effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program through economic pain, both the U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions that should make it harder for Iran to sell its oil. But the global oil business is unpredictable, and sanctions are no guarantee.

The battle over Iran's nuclear program escalated Monday as the European Union announced an embargo on importing oil from Iran.

For years, Europe has been reluctant to join the United States in imposing tough sanctions on Iran. The United States years ago stopped buying Iranian oil, while European nations including France, Spain, Italy, and Greece kept up their purchases. European countries right now buy about 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran.

Angelina Jolie was just 16 when the war in Bosnia began, and she acknowledges now that she paid little heed to it at the time. But as her awareness of international issues later took shape, her attention was drawn back to that Balkan conflict.

"I wanted to understand," she says. "I was so young, and I felt that this was my generation; how do I not know more?" Now, that war is the subject of In the Land of Blood and Honey, her debut film as a writer and director.

Tensions with Iran these days are as high as they've been in years, and managing them will be one of the top challenges facing the Obama administration this year. With Iran threatening to block U.S. ships from entering the Persian Gulf, and the United States vowing not to back down, the stage seems to be set for war. And yet, what's happening with Iran right now may be more of an economic confrontation than a military standoff.

Big changes in 2011 — from the Arab Spring to the death of North Korea's dictator — create opportunities for 2012. But change can be scary, even when the regimes to be replaced are unpopular or repressive, because there's never a guarantee the new regime will be better.

Let Iran off the hook or undermine the global economy? Slap sanctions on an Iranian energy company or provide Europe with an alternative to Russian gas? Washington policymaking is especially difficult when the aims conflict, and few cases illustrate that principle more clearly than the challenge of finding a way to punish Iran without hurting someone else.

The U.S. Congress has approved legislation that targets the Central Bank of Iran and is intended to make it more difficult for that country to sell its oil abroad.

But the latest sanctions could backfire. Reduced oil supplies on the world market could mean higher prices, and therefore Iran could actually make more money from its oil even if it sells fewer barrels.

Iran has been dealing with economic sanctions for years, but the country could soon face measures tougher than anything it has encountered before: Legislation moving through the U.S. Congress would target the central bank of Iran, with the likely effect of severely limiting Iran's oil exports.

Such sanctions would almost certainly damage Iran's economy. The challenge would be to make sure other countries are not hurt as well, given the fragile state of the global economy and the tight global oil market.

Barely two weeks ago, it appeared that European leaders had a package to contain their debt crisis. Greece's problems would be managed, with private bondholders taking a hit on their investments and a new bailout to help the government meet its obligations. A European rescue fund would protect Italy and Spain from any risk spreading from Greece.

Markets soared. And then, this week, they crashed.

Privately, U.S. officials have long complained that China and Russia are out to steal U.S. trade secrets, intellectual property and high technology. But in public they've been reluctant to point fingers and instead have referred obliquely to "some nations" or "our rivals."

The Stuxnet computer worm, arguably the first and only cybersuperweapon ever deployed, continues to rattle security experts around the world, one year after its existence was made public.

Apparently meant to damage centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran, Stuxnet now illustrates the potential complexities and dangers of cyberwar.

Secretly launched in 2009 and uncovered in 2010, it was designed to destroy its target much as a bomb would. Based on the cyberworm's sophistication, the expert consensus is that some government created it.


RENEE MONTAGNE, host: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, host: And I'm Ari Shapiro filling in for Steve Inskeep.

One year ago, German cybersecurity expert Ralph Langner announced that he had found a computer worm designed to sabotage a nuclear facility in Iran. It's called Stuxnet, and it was the most sophisticated worm Langner had ever seen.

In the year since, Stuxnet has been analyzed as a cyber-superweapon, one so dangerous it might even harm those who created it.

European governments seem to be having a hard time deciding whether to come together or drift apart at a time of economic uncertainty.

Years from now, historians will no doubt say this was a crisis waiting to happen. The people who came up with the idea of a eurozone stopped halfway. The participating countries would use a common currency, but they wouldn't have common tax and spending policies — a monetary union but not a fiscal union.